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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Channing Lefebvre at Clement Gallery

The artist Channing Lefebvre has assembled an exquisite collection of minimally altered ephemera appropriately presented under the title Appreciations: Fine Printed and Handmade Paper Collages, which I saw at Clement Art Gallery during last week's Troy Night Out.

Lefebvre's process is not unlike that of a curator, or perhaps even a photographer, whose intention is to direct our attention to the delights they have discovered, as opposed to the attention-getting tricks of an artist whose primary goal is self-expression. A printer by trade, he draws from a vast personal collection of printed material, ranging from antique lithographed catalog pages to contemporary hand-marbled Florentine paper, which he carefully arranges in very simple rectangular collages.

The show contains about two dozen of these, matted and clip-framed, all the same small size (maybe 5 by 8 inches each), and arranged around one much larger framed piece. Many more of the small ones are available to peruse by flipping through them in a display bin.

Lefebvre has always had a light touch in most of his work, which over the decades has included simplified landscapes, color-field paintings, more elaborate collages, fetishistic three-dimensional objects, calligraphic abstractions, and – most recently – systematically hatched abstract drawings. But this body of work shows the lightest touch of all, with many of the pieces combining as few as two elements in simple overlays. These “appreciations” could also be called observations – he has seen what happens when two or more shapes or patterns are combined, and is sharing that with us.

The centerpiece of the show, however, goes far beyond this approach, to produce what could arguably be called a full-fledged work of original expression, though it, too, is comprised entirely of cut-and-pasted swatches of other people’s designs. The chaotic collision of colors and patterns that occurs in that piece transcends anything the source prints’ creators likely would have envisioned. I found the effect totally gratifying (its hallucinatory quality is reflected in the far simpler piece reproduced at the top of this post).

Lefebvre had a large collection of drawings in a group show at Albany Center Gallery two years ago (you can read my very short review of it here), but he hasn't had a solo exhibition locally in quite a bit longer than that. This subtle presentation will not be for everybody, especially those who demand that their artists demonstrate specialized or arduous techniques, but it will grow on those who give it a proper chance (it's there through Feb. 24).

Rating: Recommended

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